By Samuel Chan
Hongkongers have the chance to see more than 200 pieces of mammoth tusk carved by ivory master carver Chu Chung-shing and his 100-strong team at a free show at the Convention and Exhibition Centre today and tomorrow.
Chu has been using the tusks of the prehistoric creature, which became extinct more than 10,000 years ago, as a substitute for African elephant ivory ever since a transnational ban on the ivory trade was imposed in 1989 to protect the African elephant. The elephant's protection status was upgraded from Appendix II to Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which demands restrictions on commercial trade.
After going through a brief and tough period of transition that almost left him bankrupt, Chu turned to mammoth tusks when those long buried in the Siberian tundra came up for sale after the fall of the Soviet Union.
The highlight of the exhibition is a work entitled Thousands of Arhats for our Prosperous Country , which was shown at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai and is estimated to be worth about 540 million yuan (HK$680 million).
The 4.65-metre-long work was made from 500kg of mammoth tusks and features 1,000 Arhats - the Buddhist term for someone who has attained nirvana - each one carved with a different facial expression, surrounding five Buddhas.
Chu said every year his workshop in Guangdong province produced an average of 100 small works about 5cm long, each costing thousands of yuan, and three larger works valued at more than five million yuan each.
Western customers made up about 90 per cent of his buyers before the ban on the ivory trade, but now nine out of 10 of buyers were Chinese. More....